The objective of this study was to evaluate the performance of a highly accelerated breath-hold 3-dimensional noncontrast-enhanced steady-state free precession thoracic magnetic resonance angiography (NC-MRA) technique in a clinical population, including assessment of image quality, aortic dimensions, and aortic pathology, compared with electrocardiographically gated gadolinium-enhanced MRA (Gd-MRA).
Materials and Methods
After approval from the institution board and informed consent were obtained, 30 patients (22 men; mean age, 53.4 years) with known or suspected aortic pathology were imaged with NC-MRA followed by Gd-MRA at a single examination at 1.5 T. Images were made anonymous and reviewed by 2 readers for aortic pathology and diagnostic confidence on a 5-point scale (1, worst; 5, best) on a patient basis. Image quality and artifacts were also evaluated in 10 vascular segments: aortic annulus, sinuses of Valsalva, sinotubular junction, ascending aorta, aortic arch, descending aorta, diaphragmatic aorta, great vessel origins, and the left main and right coronary artery origins. Finally, aortic dimensions were measured in each of the 7 aortic segments. The Wilcoxon signed rank test was used to compare diagnostic confidence, image quality, and artifact scores between NC-MRA and Gd-MRA. The paired Student t test and Bland-Altman analysis were used for comparison of aortic dimensions.
All patients completed NC-MRA and Gd-MRA successfully. Vascular pathologic findings were concordant with Gd-MRA in 29 of 30 (96.7%) patients and 28 of 30 (93.3%) patients for readers 1 and 2, respectively, with high diagnostic confidence (mean [SD], 4.35 [0.77]) not significantly different from Gd-MRA (4.38 [0.64]; P = 0.74). The image quality and artifact scores were comparable with Gd-MRA in most vascular segments. Notable differences were observed at the ascending aorta, where Gd-MRA had superior image quality (4.13 [0.73]) compared with NC-MRA (3.80 [0.88]; P = 0.028), and at the coronary artery origins where NC-MRA was considered superior (NC-MRA vs Gd-MRA, 3.38 [1.47] vs 2.78 [1.21] for the left main artery and NC-MRA vs Gd-MRA, 3.55 [1.40] vs 2.32 [1.16] for the right coronary artery; P < 0.05, both comparisons). The aortic dimensions were comparable, with the only significant difference observed at the ascending aorta, where NC-MRA dimension (4.05 [0.76]) was less than 1 mm smaller than that of Gd-MRA (4.12 [0.7]; P = 0.043).
Breath-hold NC-MRA of the thoracic aorta yields good image quality, comparable to Gd-MRA, with high accuracy for aortic dimension and pathology. It can be considered as an alternative to Gd-MRA in patients with relative contraindications to gadolinium contrast or problems with intravenous access.